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Last of Kincade fire evacuees in Sonoma County returning home, as blaze containment jumps to 78%

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After being forced to leave to get away from the Kincade fire more than a week ago, Sunday the last of the 186,000 Sonoma County residents displaced in an unprecedented evacuation of more than a third of the county’s population finally were allowed to return home.

Cal Fire said the mandatory evacuation that still had been in effect for about 900 people living in communities closest to or where the fire burned was changed to a warning, enabling them to go back to their residences in areas including Shiloh Ridge outside of Windsor, Mark West Springs, Franz Valley, Knights Valley and Mount St. Helena.

“This brings it down to zero,” said Barry Dugan, spokesman for the county’s emergency operation center. “They’ll go to a warning for 24 hours, and then after that it’ll be completely an all-clear.”

Meanwhile, the army of firefighters still working to get full control of the county’s largest wildfire still burning near the Sonoma County and Lake County line gained more ground Sunday, too. Cal Fire said containment increased by 4% to 78%, the strongest grip the firefighting force of still more than 3,200 firefighters has had since the blaze sparked Oct. 23 northeast of Geyserville and quickly spread.

Firefighters continue to build containment lines in steep, rural terrain that is more challenging for hand crews on the Kincade fire’s eastern flank in the Mayacamas Mountains near Lake County. Cal Fire is still targeting Thursday for full containment of the inferno, which destroyed 374 structures and burned 77,758 acres, or about 121 square miles. The inferno has not grown in size since Thursday night.

“It’s a huge relief, honestly,” Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said of Sunday’s developments. “We still have to remember that hundreds of structures were destroyed, but I’m hoping the community can start to get into a normal routine and hopefully it means more businesses are opening and we can start feeling like we have our towns and our communities back.”

To help residents struggling to recover from the emergency conditions created by the fire, Sonoma County on Monday will open a local assistance center at the Healdsburg Community Center.

The center, at 1557 Healdsburg Avenue, will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Wednesday, or longer if needed.

Residents directly affected by the Kincade fire can receive recovery help there, such as kits with protective equipment for people who lost properties in the blaze, information on rebuilding and health care services, including mental health referrals.

PG&E said that all customers in Sonoma County affected by the back-to-back power shut-offs intended to reduce the risk of the utility’s equipment igniting fires during dangerous weather, again have power.

However, there’s about 1,000 customers countywide, fewer than the 1,400 Saturday, still left in the dark due to damaged infrastructure that requires repairs before electricity is restored.

A PG&E spokeswoman said Sunday night that more than 1,900 customers remain without natural gas because utility employees have not been able to access their properties, and that number may be higher pending crews connecting with individual businesses and homeowners. PG&E had turned off the gas to 24,600 customers, also a safety precaution as firefighters battled the Kincade blaze.

“There’s a lot of frustrated people. Nobody thought that’s one of these things that would be shut down,” county Supervisor James Gore said of natural gas. “I know they’re out there working hard on this one. It’s in their own financial interest to get the gas back on.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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